It was 2017 winners Columbus Crew who won the first match of the 2018 edition of the Carolina Challenge Cup over Atlanta United by a score of 3-1.
In what was a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Play-off round, the Crew were clinical with their efforts at goal, while Atlanta, who dominated possession for long spells in each half, couldn’t quite find the final ball to test Zack Steffen in the Columbus goal.
The CCC marks the third road trip already for Columbus, who took part in a few scrimmages in Arizona before facing two Japanese teams in Hawaii. This is Atlanta’s second match of preseason, having played against USL newcomers Nashville FC in a bit of a deluge in the music city.
Atlanta had the better of the early goings, but never really forced goalkeeper Zack Steffen into making a worthwhile save.
Much of the game itself was free flowing, with the ref letting a majority of challenges go early on.
Despite having trouble possessing the ball for long periods, it was Columbus who opened the scoring, when on 14′, Frederico Higuaín’s ball through on the edge of the box found Pedro Santos on the overlap, who controlled and slotted past Brad Guzan in goal.
Atlanta remained on the offensive, however, and it was only six minutes before they would fashion a chance of their own. Ezequiel Barco played a ball short down the right for Darlington Nagbe, whose shot from distance failed to trouble Steffen.
Crew striker Higuaín had a free header in the box on 27′ from a near perfect cross on the right, but he couldn’t get enough power on the effort as it went wide.
With just over half an hour gone, Josef Martinez was on the receiving end of Lalas Aboubackar‘s high boot, which led to a free kick on the edge of the box for Atlanta that went straight at the ‘keeper.
And Minnesota would use the wasted free kick to break quickly before Christian Martinez spotted Brad Guzan off his line, and deftly chipped him to double the lead from all of 34 yards.
And so, Columbus would go into half time 2-0 in front. The scorline would perhaps flatter them, but Atlanta hadn’t created enough chances, while Columbus had been quite lethal.
Atlanta did come out the better of the two sides once again in the second half, and Josef Martinez weighted a nice looking ball into Julian Gressel on the edge of the box, but the midfielder couldn’t control the pass and the chance was gone.
On 71′ a corner played in by the goalscorer Santos would skim off of Josef Martinez’ head in the middle of the area for an own goal that looked to put the game beyond Atlanta.
Former Battery loanee Andrew Carleton would replace Ezequiel Barco, while Brandon Vasquez would come on for Darlington Nagbe.
Atlanta would then pull a goal back on the stroke of full time, when Josef Martinez drove at the Columbus defense before slotting in for Miguel Almiron who calmly put the ball beyond the ‘keeper to reduce the deficit.
Despite the scoreline, the crowd, made up of mostly Atlanta fans, were loving it despite the goal being only a consolation.
And that’s how it ended. Columbus won the first game of this years’ Carolina Challenge Cup, rather clinically handling Atlanta United 3-1.
Columbus next face the hosts, the Charleston Battery on Wednesday, February 21st. Kick off is set for 5:05PM.
Atlanta then take on Minnesota United as the nightcap on the same day at 7:05.
TOP IMAGE: THE CREW CELEBRATE ONE OF THREE GOALS SCORED AS THEY LOOK TO DEFEND THEIR CAROLINA CHALLENGE CUP TITLE. PHOTOS CREDIT ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY.